Disinterested Gospel

By Paul Koch

For many years, I have been in the habit of reading in bed. Every night, I read a few pages of whatever book I’m currently working through before I can fall asleep. Sometimes it is literally just a few pages, and sometimes I can make it through a chapter or two, but it is a practice I can’t seem to do without. Now, I don’t usually read theology or philosophy books at night. Rather, I set aside that time for reading a good novel. Lately, I’ve been re-reading Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Last night while reading the exchange between Charles Darnay (St. Evremond) and Dr. Manette about his desire to marry Manette’s daughter, I came across these words,

“Dear Doctor Manette, I love your daughter fondly, dearly, disinterestedly, devotedly. If ever there were love in the world, I love her.”

That adverb used to describe the young man’s love for Lucie Manette managed to stick with me, even after a night’s sleep. To love her disinterestedly was not a description I was expecting to see. It’s not a common description we use today, but what a beautiful picture of love it is. As he describes his love, he describes it as being unbiased by personal interest or advantage. We might say that his love was without selfish motivation.

The more I’ve thought about this, the more I think this is an incredible description of the Gospel. The Gospel is a disinterested love. It is a gift freely given without any merit or worthiness on the part of the one receiving the gift. A great image of this might be the parable of the Sower in Matthew 13. The Sower isn’t all that picky and choosy about where the seed is sown. He doesn’t make sure that it only falls in the best of soil. No, that Sower just starts throwing it every which way. Some lands on the path, some on the rocky soil, some among the weeds, and some in the good soil. The Sower isn’t sowing with a personal interest. In fact, he is sort of reckless in his practice of sowing; it is a disinterested sowing.

The problem, of course, is that this goes against everything we would normally practice. It goes against solid business practices. It goes against any sane notion of what is fair or equal. It stands in opposition to the hard lessons of life. Torn friendships, divorce, gossip, slander, and the like have taught us that the best way to engage this world and advance ourselves is to make sure we cover our own asses and reject the idea of a disinterested love.

To love those who have nothing to offer back is foolish and stupid. To love those that have hurt us and show no sign of lasting repentance is to play the part of an idiot and set ourselves up for more hurt in the future.

And yet, deep down, I think most of us know that every sample we’ve ever been blessed to participate in of a marriage that is thriving or a friendship that is unshakable is marked by some semblance of disinterested love.

How, then, do we find the courage to do that? How do we even begin?

Perhaps it doesn’t begin with us at all. Rather, it begins on the lips of the one who dies for our self-interests, whose body is torn and beaten for our selfishness, who knows that we have nothing to offer him and yet still declares, “I forgive you.”